College Basketball: Which Conference is on Top Right Now?
In just about every sport, it seems like there is one league or division that dominates the game. In the NFL, we’ve seen both the AFC and the NFC have its dominant stretches. Everybody knows how much better the NBA’s Western Conference has been than the Eastern Conference (at least in recent seasons, although that tide may be shifting). Even in baseball, we’ve seen runs of championship excellence in both the American League and the National League.
This dominance is evident in college athletics as well. For a long time, college football’s premier conference was the SEC — and it may still be that way. In college basketball, however, the top teams always seem spread out amongst a handful of conferences. For the 2015-16 season, this seems to be the case again, as a handful of conferences stand out in the rankings every week. So, which conference deserves the title (for this season at least) as the best in men’s college basketball? Here, we rank the top five conferences to determine which league has the most power from top to bottom.
5. PAC 12
The PAC 12 is in a weird place this season. Arizona is currently the only team ranked within the top 25, yet several teams loom on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament season. ESPN’s Bracketology currently projects the conference to have eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, which is the most among any conference in the country. This projection is because the PAC 12 has a lot of good but not great teams.
No team in the conference has a losing record at this point in the season, yet no team has fewer than three losses either. It’s likely that teams such as Utah, Colorado, California, USC, and UCLA will beat up on one another as the season progresses, which should dwindle this eight-team projection down. Still, the PAC 12 should be somewhat of a factor come March.
4. Big East
After the Big East lost several of its top teams a few seasons ago, such as Syracuse, Louisville, and Connecticut, the conference’s reputation as a formidable league took a huge hit. However, the addition of teams, like Xavier and Butler, since those losses have given the Big East some serious credibility as a legitimate conference on the national level again. Currently, at least six teams in the Big East could make a case for the NCAA Tournament come March. Among those teams, four are ranked in the top 25 (with Xavier and Villanova currently ranked within the top 10). It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Big East produced a Final Four team this season.
3. Big 10
The Big 10 is always one of the best conferences in college basketball. Even in a season where some of the typical heavyweights are having a down year, the conference still holds a lot of power on the national landscape. Currently, Maryland and Michigan State sit within the top five teams in the country, as they both hold only one loss a piece. Other teams, like Iowa (who handed the Spartans their only loss), Purdue, and Indiana, loom in this conference as well. We’re used to seeing the likes of Wisconsin at the top of the Big 10, but even without the Badgers’ presence, the league is still one of the best in the nation as they could end up with six or seven teams in the tournament come March.
With some of the historically excellent programs in college basketball, we believe that the ACC is the second best conference in the country this season. North Carolina and Duke (no surprise there) currently sit in the top 10, along with a somewhat surprising team in Miami (Florida), making the ACC the only conference with three schools in the top 10.
Outside of those three, you have an always dangerous Virginia team, as well as Pittsburgh and Louisville to fill out the six teams that rank within the top 25 for the conference. All six of those clubs should play in the NCAA Tournament and another one or two could join them out of the ACC. Not only will the conference produce tournament teams, but it could very well produce the champion (the ACC has won four championships in the past 10 seasons).
1. Big 12
With the current top two teams in the nation, Kansas and Oklahoma, we think the Big 12 deserves the title as the best conference in men’s college basketball. Outside of the top two, the Big 12 has West Virginia, Iowa State, and Baylor ranked within the top 25. With every team currently above the .500 mark overall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this conference end up with eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. Seeing how well Oklahoma and Kansas have played this season, the Big 12 could be in line for the conference’s first national champion since the Jayhawks cut down the nets in 2008.